Jane's Art
By Paul Rizza
(Photo by LK Shaw)

An artist named Jane lived in New York and was only in her early twenties, but was already sick of her body of art. Her body of art contained black and white comics about her life and her life contained little more than broke shopping and drunkenly attending parties she didn't want to attend. Broke shopping is when you go shopping while broke, and Jane did this a lot.

She also did some silkscreening and wished she had focused more on silkscreening when she was in art school, but those days were over and it didn't really matter at this point anyway. Jane didn't see any point in dwelling on the past because the things she did then were irrevocable, and the future hadn't happened yet. She had learned this lesson from Rafiki in The Lion King at age 8 and would never forget because she had watched that movie fifty times. The past was pointless to think about and the future was overwhelming and confusing. The only real problem was her present.

As a teenager Jane would draw something every day but her room would be nearly empty of drawings, because she would destroy her work after having to look at it for a certain amount of time. She eventually decided that she wanted to call herself an artist and had to stop doing that, because she had very little evidence to prove she'd earned the label. She compromised with herself: she would keep all the completed sketchbooks and rolled-up posters, but she would never look at them nor show anyone. They would accumulate under her bed and remain there untouched, as proof that she could create, but no one could ever see them because they were awful.

In art school Jane had learned to get over her issues with showing work to others, but she had never been able to think of herself as skilled or talented. She had become sick of her own art but not art in general, and still enjoyed going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on occasion, as well as gallery openings that her friends would do, but sometimes she would also grow tired of art in general and feel a desire to fall back on something entirely unrelated. Unfortunately she could not think of anything to do besides art and couldn't imagine that anything existed outside of the art world besides being a barista, which was already a career inextricably associated with that of the artist. She could try another medium or discipline, she knew, but that felt like a solution an unhelpful friend might suggest, a person who just couldn't grasp the scope of the problem.

Jane got a little older and continued to make her comics and posters and sell them over the internet, and nothing really happened in her life besides making an online boyfriend and talking to him for three years without ever meeting him. Michael was from Illinois and had lived on a farm there for most of his life but when he was 24 he decided to go to the University of Chicago to better himself. He majored in something, felt out of place, and moved back home to be a farmer for life. Around this time he met Jane online and over the next few years they became close and got married.

Jane lived on a farm now and it was very different from living in New York. She no longer sent texts on Fridays asking if there were "any parties". She no longer ate shawarma or sushi or pho unless she and Michael were on their annual trip to Chicago, and even then it was rare because Michael didn't eat exotic food. Jane didn't consider those foods to be exotic.

As is common among married couples who have little else going on in their lives, Jane and Michael soon had a child. Michael was a good, dependable man and Jane was happy to stay at home cooking and cleaning, which was basically what she had been doing all day when she lived alone. She adapted quickly to the housewife lifestyle, and took pride in how neat and efficient she had become.

"I'm finished," Jane said one morning, and left the kitchen to go upstairs. Michael asked her what she meant. She had a complex look on her face that told him she was referring to very big concepts. She was not talking about having finished breakfast.

"I'm just finished, that's all. I'm done now."

"Done with me, you mean? Done with our family."

"Done my performance, all of this."

Michael thought this was a strange thing to say, and continued to press his wife so that he could at least understand her. Earlier in the marriage he had wondered whether Jane would feel out of place in the country but those fears subsided after he saw how well she had adjusted. She had put a lot of effort into being a housewife on a farm.

"Honey, what do you mean? You feel like you're performing? I... Well. Hmm. I thought you were pretty happy.."

"I was happy, Michael, but this isn't about how I feel. This was a performance, it really was. I'm not, uh...using a metaphor or anything."

Michael blinked, and hoped she would explain further.

"I gave up drawing comics when I left New York, you know that," she started, stifling the response he was about to make with an embrace that neither person attempted to pull from. "I gave up drawing but I didn't give up art. I'm a performance artist now."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I was acting. I feel bad saying this but I'm glad I was so convincing! I actually forgot why I was here a lot of the time. But it's gone on long enough and I think I have to end the piece."

Michael stared at Jane and awkwardly tried to take in the fact that his family was an art project.

"I mean, it wasn't just me, either! You did a great job with your part. Michael? You really did, you were a great husband. Thank you so much, it was so much easier to do this with someone like you. You should take a bow!"

Jane was standing there smiling with wide eyes and Michael wasn't moving.

"You too, Eric!" she cooed at the baby playing in the crib. "You helped mommy a lot with her art, you know that? Do you want to take a bow too?"

"Are you going back to New York then? You don't want to just stay here? I mean, all of this is real, you know. If you leave, this house will still be here. We'll all still be here, as a family. Eric will grow up, I'll still take care of the farm... Why don't you just stay? You said you're happy here. Just stay."

And she picked up the baby from under the shoulders and stood him up and gently made him bend at the waist like a doll.


paul rizza lives in toronto